I've spent the past month preparing for the next nine, and somewhere between notes on A Farewell to Arms and rethinking my lead-in lesson on perspective, I reread the critical thesis I wrote two summers ago. I called it "Landing: A Focus on Place in Flyover Fiction." In it, I examined first place--how it's created in writing, effective techniques, etc.--and second those writers from my flyover state who seem to have a handle on such things. I wrote it as a writer for other writers. But this time, because of the headspace I was in, I read it as a teacher, and my planning from that day on changed.
Later, I read in the most recent issue of Orion Erik Reece's essay "The Schools We Need." He talked about many things, but the paragraph that stood out to me was this:
"When students learn about artists from their particular watersheds, they begin to feel their own home place legitimated, validated. Localizing knowledge makes the curriculum more relevant to students' own experience, and it can instill a sense of pride about the places where our students live. 'When I was growing up in these mountains,' wrote Kentucky novelist Lee Smith, 'I was always taught that culture was someplace else, and that when the time came, I'd be sent off to get some. Now everybody here realizes that we don't have to go anyplace else to 'get culture' -- we've got our own, and we've had it all along.'" (34)Reading this felt a bit like a sign, some confirmation.
So, yes, I will still teach Hemingway and the research process and how to select the very best word. But this year, in every way I can, I will not just be a writer of place, but a teacher of it too. I will say, "I know you think this town is small, that this state is nothing compared to New York and California, that you and those who understand your local experiences count for so very little when held next to THE WORLD. But no. It's not true. Your voice matters. And here are a few names of other Minnesota writers who will tell you so: Robert Bly, Joyce Sutphen, Louise Erdrich, Bill Holm, Paul Gruchow, Patricia Hampl, Sigurd Olson, Jon Hassler, Lief Enger, Kao Kalia Yang, Faith Sullivan, Jude Nutter, Tim O'Brien, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Baxter, David Treuer, Garrison Keillor, Vince Flynn, Joyce Sidman, Judith Guest, Amanda Hocking, Larry Sutin, Alison McGhee, Kate DiCamillo...